Google Maps just switched on smarter bikeshare navigation

Google Maps is getting a cycling upgrade, with new features intended to make bike journeys more efficient and safer – as well as warning riders if they're likely to get sweaty on the way. Although biking directions in Google Maps have been available for a decade now, the updates promise to take advantage of new cycle lanes and temporary road closures, as well as embracing bike-share schemes.

For example, Google says that it taps machine learning along with imagery and data of real-world road conditions to educate its path planning algorithm. It also analyzes different types of bike lane, and even takes into account roads that might be less conducive to cyclists, such as those including poor surface conditions, tunnels, and stairs.

Routes will now include insight into how tricky they might be to navigate. That includes how flat or steep they are, for example, which could be useful to know if you're cycling to a meeting and don't want to arrive with your shirt soaked through.

Given changes in bike-friendly urban systems what with COVID-19, Google is also looking to take into account more temporary bike lans and routes. "We're already working to integrate hundreds of thousands of new bike lanes in the coming months," Vishal Dutta, product manager at Google Maps, explains. "Local government agencies can provide this data through our Geo Data Upload tool to have their latest bike lane information reflected in Google Maps."

Bikeshares in Google Maps

Another big change that has evolved since Google Maps first got biking directions is the spread of bikeshare services. Google added bike sharing stations – and sometimes real-time availability of bikes there – in select cities in recent years, but now it's upgrading that, too.

From today, for instance, there'll be more comprehensive instructions for routes that include bikeshare components. If you look up biking directions, Google Maps will also include walking instructions to get to the bikeshare dock, plus live bike availability there. There'll then be turn-by-turn directions to the nearest bikeshare dock to your destination, and again Google Maps will take into account the need for a spare dock at that location.

Finally, there'll be the last section of the walking directions to actually reach the destination. Google says that some cities will also have integration with the bikeshare apps, to open those up for booking and bike access. Initially there'll be support in ten cities, with select providers, though Google says it expects to add more overt time:

  • Chicago, U.S. (Divvy/Lyft)
  • New York City, U.S. (Citi Bike/Lyft)
  • San Francisco Bay Area, U.S. (Bay Wheels/Lyft)
  • Washington, DC, U.S. (Capital Bikeshare/Lyft)
  • London, England (Santander Cycles/TfL)
  • Mexico City, Mexico (Ecobici)
  • Montreal, Canada (BIXI/Lyft)
  • Rio De Janeiro, Brazil (Bike Itaú)
  • São Paulo, Brazil (Bike Itaú)
  • Taipei and New Taipei City, Taiwan (YouBike)